Illustrations and Applications

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Illustrations and Applications

I. Consult Synopsis or Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels

Now, we will make some illustrations and applications before going on to the next lecture. In the case of the two historical criticisms that we have introduced in detail, namely source and form criticism. The student will need to consult a synopsis or harmony of the synoptic Gospels, turning to the passages that represent the three synoptic accounts of the healing of the paralytic. However, we will not be considering the somewhat similar verses in John’s Gospel in the opening of John 5. The context in John 5 shows it to be a different episode and different occasion in the life of Christ; most striking is the words of healing of a crippled man. But if the student takes some time, even pausing the sound file at appropriate places to study the similarities and differences between Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26, then he or she should be able to compare and contrast their findings with the points that will be highlighted in the following text. As you read and compare these three parallel accounts, look for anything that might appear to you to illustrate either the principals we have discussed and which the textbook introduced with respect to source criticism to the synoptic problem and the Markan priority as its most common solution. But also look for possible illustrations of form criticism. Although we have not done anything yet with the character distinctive of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, basic graphs of which are prerequisites for our use of redaction criticism; it certainly cannot hurt to ask yourself what distinctive in any or all of the synoptics Gospels of this passage might seem to represent a theological emphasis. This is as oppose to simply demonstrating a particular use of the source or direction of dependence among the Gospels as source criticism or the kinds of changes or lack of changes that one could attribute to the oral tradition which form critics study. We will allow some time now for student to pause if they would like and consider these passages before continuing.

II. Source Criticism

There are many kinds of comments which could be made now. Now if I don’t comment on a particular phenomenon in comparing the text, doesn’t mean you’ve not made a significant observation. Of the kinds of things source and form critics often point out, you might consider illustrations of the following: source criticism, supporting Markan priority because it has the longest and most detailed account though Luke is only shorter by just a few words. Matthew, however, is the most drastically abbreviated of the three Gospels; it makes more sense that the earliest Gospel would have preserved the greatest amount of detail. Some of these details seems to be theological un-motivated, perhaps reflecting an eye-witness touch or at least a proximity to the original event lacking in other versions. An example of this appears in Mark 2:3 where the paralytic was carried by the four men. Luke 5:16 doesn’t give a number, only that men carried the paralytic. In Matthew, it simply says, ‘they’, which insinuates that more knowledge was available but an abbreviation was chosen instead. The antecedent to the ‘they’ drops out. There are a couple of places where Matthew and Luke differ from Mark. The kind of coincidence when it happens often enough calls the Marken priority into question or leads some scholars to think a different version of the passage existed. We see an example in 9:2 and Luke 5:18 showing the addition of the word, ‘behold’. Matthew reads, ‘and behold, they brought him a paralytic.’ In Luke, ‘and behold’. In Mark 2:3, there isn’t any ‘behold’. On the other hand, this was a very common word in the Gospels, ‘edu’, reflecting in translation the ‘vockeyinae’ of so much Hebrew narrative, a kind of summatized style of Greek, imitating Old Testament stories and coming at a key juncture when the recipient of the healing is introduced into Jesus presence; we should not be too surprised when two writers independently make such a minor change to their source. If you look further down the passage, there is a slight minor disagreement of Matthew and Luke against Mark appears: Matthew 9:7, the once crippled person, now healed, rose and went home. Luke uses the identical language near the end of Luke 5:25, ‘he went home glorifying God,’ where as in Mark 2:12, it says that, ‘he went out before them all.’ If it was understood from the earliest days of telling this story that the man went out and went home; the smoother account with full and distinct closer is the form that has him simply going home. The difference is minor enough that you shouldn’t be too surprised that the two writers might independently arrive at the same perceived narrative improvement. Supporting Marken priority, much more dramatically as pointed out in the textbook, is the agreement which comes in all three versions in the context of the climactic saying of Jesus, ‘that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins.’ Then at the identical place, right in the middle of Jesus’ story, each Gospel writer breaks away from his representation of Jesus’ words and adds as narrator, ‘he said to the paralytic or to the man who was paralyzed’ but then immediately resumed the quotation in Mark and Luke, ‘I said to you, rise, take up your bed or pallet and go home.’ The chances of three writers independently, interrupting the identical climactic statement of Jesus in exactly the same place for this kind of narrative and resuming it in the same place are almost nil and once one allows as we saw from Luke 1:1-4 that God did not just choose supernaturally to dictate every word to the Gospel writers, but superintended their work so that the very words they would pen was the word God wanted penned, but not apart from their ordinary mental processes or function as histories or biographers. So we have here almost incontrovertible proof that there is literary dependence among the three versions.

III. Potential Contributions of Oral Position

Turning to the potential contributions of the oral tradition and thus applying form criticism, Matthew drastically abbreviated text fits here also. It was more common for lengthier detailed stories like the miracle account in Mark 2:1-12 to be abbreviated as the tradition developed. We also see representing a point of agreement with the early form critics that the most stable form of this kind of an account which is not merely the account of a miraculous healing but also the form of a pronouncement story which is also known as conflict and controversy stories as seen here with the Pharisees. But the pronouncement story may be the more helpful and descriptive title because these come to a climax in one key statement. When one mixes the two forms, it is less clear, should one call the statement, ‘my son, your sins are forgiven’ as the climax or the actual miracle itself, but intriguingly, the miracle though the more difficult act to perform is within the narrative logic of the passage becomes subordinate to and in service of the greater spiritual claim that Jesus can speak directly on behalf of God with an authority and the immediacy of that authority not held by priests or other Jewish leaders to speak to the forgiveness of sins of this particular individual. At any rate, it is precisely where these two themes are in Mark 2:10 and in the parallel verses in Matthew and Luke, you have the greatest amount of verbatim wording in all three Gospels. This is precisely what form critics have taught to expect in pronouncement stories. Much like a punch line of a joke, it all hinges on this climatic saying. You must know that there are a variety of ways one can build up to the climax and be true to it in what one includes or omits, in how literal it is in reporting another’s wording. The most stable part of the pronouncement story in the oral tradition is the climatic pronouncement, itself.

IV. Discuss the Distinctives of Each Synoptic Gospel

Finally, we may anticipate the discussion of the distinctive of the four evangelists and of redaction criticism by noting a few small touches here. Matthew, perhaps, most noteworthy, grouped his healing in chapters 8 and 9, out of sequence from where Mark and Luke placed the same account. However, Matthew 8 and 9 are a collection of ten miracles, mostly of healings that demonstrate Jesus’ authority just as Matthew 5 to 7 formed a collection of Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mound, which likewise demonstrated Jesus’ authority. There is also the very interesting little difference at the end of Matthew’s account when only Matthew in 9:8 has the crowds marveling specifically in glorifying God for having given such authority to men. The other Gospels at this point do not include this kind of language because the miracle, first of all, glorifies Jesus and the reference to giving such authority to men could potentially mislead the audience either into thinking that Jesus was simply one of many individuals who had been given this identical miracle working ability or that he was in no supernatural way any different from other human beings. Yet, interestingly, one of the recurring and somewhat distinctive themes of Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus as the representative man for rest of human kind, particularly for Israel, doing right what both Adam and Eve representing the human race and later the children of Israel at the time of the rebellion in the wilderness did wrong so that even if this is a kind of generalizing, it would be Matthew’s Gospel to use such wording. Mark 2:8 adds his characteristics, immediately occurring more than twice in other Gospel writer’s narratives. Sometimes for events that literally did happen, one right on top of the other, but in other cases, seemingly more for some dramatic effect. We see this immediately reported again in Mark 2:12 where Luke’s account does have a parallel, but neither Luke nor Matthew have a parallel to that in Mark 2:8. A reminder that redaction critics can focus on what at times seems more stylistic than theological in motivation. And it’s interesting to see in Luke’s account an extra reference to the Pharisees. Luke has the more variegated picture of Pharisees and Jewish leaders more generally throughout his Gospel and his acts. A reference to the power of the Lord is a characteristic and distinctive expression with in Luke’s account of Jesus’ miracles. And perhaps the most fascinating difference, even though a very small one, has to do with his description of the men carrying the paralytic, managing to get from the rooftop down into the room where Jesus was with the crowded gathering. We read in the RSV in Luke 5:19 that they went onto the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst of Jesus. Mark, on the other hand, in 2:4, the RSV simply has, ‘when they had made an opening.’ Perhaps not to call attention to what could be perceived as contradiction where the Greek more literally reads that they dug through the roof. Quite probably, Mark reflexed a more literal rendering. The thatch roof top with dirt, held together with mixed straw was common place in the villages of Galilee, but Luke as the one gentile Gospel writers writing to a more urban Hellenistic environment most probably, uses what scholars have called a more contemporary or representational change. Still being true to the theme of going through the roof, but instead of using a verb that would have been unintelligent; how would you dig through tiles in a community that has the classic Mediterranean tiled roofs, simply uses the language that they would have known best for the nature of a house top? If we add up all of these different changes whether in source or redaction critical categories, certainly there is nothing to suggest that anyone of these three accounts is a different event from the other. The theology that is taught, even the subordinate points that are made are consistent from one account to the next. Many of the other minor differences are simply different writer’s ways of saying the same thing or the choice to omit or include certain details that is relatively tangential to the central plot and message of the story. Among the passages of the triple tradition of the synoptics, that is to say, those that appear in all three synoptic Gospels and where it is usually assumed that Matthew and Luke have followed Mark to one degree or another. This particular passage on the healing of the paralytic is very typical. It was deliberately chosen as an illustration because it does not contain any dramatic differences that do appear occasionally. Neither is it word for word, the same through large portions of parallels. It represents a fairly typical middle of the road passages that one sees. It is an excellent illustration of the kinds of similarities and differences that one finds in many similar parallel passages throughout the synoptics that demonstrate that each writer does have his own style, choices, themes, emphasis and courses.